Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tip of the week: Keep Cheap Protein Staples on Hand!

Too many people end up eating poorly due to lack of planning and not having healthy food staples on hand. When it comes to simple meals, you need to have quick-to-prepare and healthy protein staples in your fridge or pantry so that you can create a meal when you get back late, are tired, and do not feel like cooking. You can create a healthy meal in less time and for less money than if you were to stop and get take-out. In order to make a well-balanced meal, you need to have a protein source, LOADS of vegetables, and a whole grain at bare minimum. I always advocate keeping frozen vegetables on hand, as well as some form of whole grain you can go to such as whole grain bread products (I keep Wegman's whole wheat pita's in my freezer all the time), quinoa, or low-sodium whole grain crackers (e.g: Ak Mak whole wheat sesame or Hint of Salt Triscuits). Below are my go-to cheap and nutritious protein staples I recommend you keep around your kitchen:

Eggs:  Use 1 whole egg + 2 egg whites- make veggie omelets with a side of whole grain toast (~13 g protein per 1 egg:2 whites omelet)
Low-fat cottage cheese: My favorite brand is Breakstone’s 2% (30% reduced-sodium)- use in salads, smoothies, add to omelets, put in pitas w/ cut strawberries & cinnamon, eat with fruit or tomatoes (12-16 g protein/half cup)
Canned no-salt added beans:  You can add beans to just about anything from burritos to salads, add to a vegetable dish, or eat plain (7-10 g protein/half cup)
Frozen veggie burgers:  These cook up in <2 minutes- my favorite kind is Amy’s Texas Burger- always look for a veggie burger with some form of high quality protein (like soy) and >10 g protein per burger. The only downfall of these products is the high sodium content associated (10-20 g protein depending on burger)
Frozen shelled edamame:      Most supermarkets now even have their own generic brand of shelled edamame in the freezer aisle. Edamame are soybeans that are a complete protein source and extremely healthy and versatile. Add to stir fries, salads, or eat as a snack! (13 g protein/ half cup)
Tofu: Stick with extra firm tofu if you aren’t used to working with it. Add to stir fries, salads, or add to any dish you are making. Tofu has very little flavor and is very versatile. (1/2 pack= ~14 g protein)
Reduced-fat Swiss cheese:       Swiss is amongst the lowest in sodium content of all cheeses. When all else fails and you have no meat for your sandwich- make a grilled cheese or add cheese to the omelet to get more dairy and protein. Choose reduced-fat varieties to keep your saturated fat intake to a minimum (~7 g protein/slice)
Canned (low-sodium) tuna or salmon:      You should definitely keep these on hand! You can make fish fritters made with vegetables and oatmeal, add canned fish to salads, pastas, or make into a sandwich. Delicious, nutritious and cheap! Just be sure to get the skinless & boneless canned salmon, the other varieties may be cheaper, but definitely not worth the extra work & appearance… (12-14 g protein per 2 oz or ~¼ c)

If you keep all of these on hand you will have the ability to create a quick and easy meal at a moment's notice. Be sure to add whatever spices and herbs you want to add flavor and antioxidants to your meal.

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